That jealous feeling of seeing friends travel internationally finally got the best of me. An international vacation has been on my radar for many years, I’ve just never made it happen. So with two weeks off and a little extra spending cash from freelance work, I took a 10-day adventure in Europe.
I’ve been to the Bahamas, Cuba and Canada but never been over to Europe. Amsterdam has always been a place I wanted to see so I decided to start my journey there. (And I found a super cheap flight direct from Orlando for the exact dates I wanted)
The Amsterdam Light Festival was going on while I was there. Local artists make pieces using lights and display them over the canals around the city. Made walking around at night a lot of fun.
Easily one of the highlights of this trip was getting to spend a day with Johannes, a family friend from Germany. He was nice enough to come over to Holland. My uncle Tom spent quite a bit of time in Germany after college and became good friends with Johannes.
My uncle passed when I was in high school. He was someone I always looked up to and admired for his intelligence and sense of humor. So getting the chance to spend a day swapping stories and catching up with one of Tom’s good friends was a real treat.
We visited Zaanse Chans just outside Amsterdam. It’s a museum of working windmills along the Zaan river.
After a nice dinner, we attended a concert by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. It was nice to get away from tourists and do something with the locals. As Johannes said “We’re the intruders here. Everyone is speaking Dutch.” It was a fun Holiday-themed performance.
Early the next morning, we both caught our respective trains. Him back to Germany, me down to Paris.
After arriving in Paris, the first place I visited? The site where Henri Cartier-Bresson took his famous photo. It’s not a landmark or sexy area of Paris at all, but it gave me goosebumps to be there. I studied this photo (and his work) a lot so finding the spot where he took this image was pretty cool to me. Geeky photo nerd stuff… but cool.
My first actual landmark vistied was the Sacre-Coeur. It’s the highest point in Paris so it gives you a good view of the city. And for 6 euro you can go up to the top of the dome for an even better view.
It was a cool experience to walk up the skinny spiral staircase (300+ steps) that opens up to a 360 view of the entire city.
I found a little restaurant near my Air BnB to have dinner. It only seated about 20 people. A woman sat next to me who spoke French. After I asked my server how to pronounce what I had ordered, the woman leaned over and asked where I was from. Turns out she was an American living in a rural town in France and had a few nights in Paris before going home for Christmas. It was a nice introduction to Paris for sure.
The next day started with a visit to the Louvre.
Here’s the best I could do to show you the zoo around the Mona Lisa.
My lunch as I rushed from the Louvre to the Eiffle Tower.
I got tickets to go up to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. I tried to time it with the sunset but it was pretty cloudy. Still made for some amazing views of the city.
Dude selling crepes near the Eiffle Tower.
Mother Nature gave a Christmas gift… sunlight! I hadn’t seen the sun since well before leaving Gainesville. (I flew overnight so even the flight was dark) But here’s the view from the patio of my Air BnB first thing in the morning.
Christmas Morning service at Notre Dame.
Just outside, I got down on the ground to get photos of the birds. A young girl kept throwing bread at them so she could take their photo. So they kept coming back after they flew off like this. This image was from the third time they took off. Thanks little girl!
It was cold… so I warmed up with some Vin Chaud (hot wine) with my lunch of snails.
This dude was playing with the birds outside the Louvre. I took a few photos and he walked over and handed me some seeds. I was surrounded by birds so I just kept taking photos. Afterward, he asked for money. No problem I had a ton of change. Except I forgot that change in Euro actually has some value (€2 coins add up quick) so I have no idea how much money I ended up giving him.
I hiked up the entire length of the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe and stood in the middle of the road and took a selfie. Touristy, I know. But fun.
My final morning in Paris, I had a few hours to explore before catching a train. So I went to the area around the Pont Alexandre and visited the Les Invalides (Army museum that houses the tomb of the Short Dead Dude… aka Napoleon)
After a short train ride, I ended up in Brussels. Up until this point in the trip, all I wanted to do was make images. Everywhere I went, every meal, every metro stop was about making photos. I realized that I hadn’t experienced anything that wasn’t through the viewfinder. So my first night in Brussels, I left my camera in my room. I still had my phone but it was more about being in the moment rather than making photos.
I signed up for a beer tasting and pub crawl. It was a cool way to try some Belgium beers and get to know some other travelers.
After a night of beer… a cone of Frits really hit the spot the next morning.
And of course had to have a waffle. Amazing.
Something I’ve always wanted to do is attend a soccer game in Europe. I don’t know much about the leagues or teams but I know it’s a big deal and would be a great atmosphere. So as luck would have it, the Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht had a home game. And a buddy I met the night before decided to go as well. So we tailgated before the game (one of my favorite meals/times of the trip) Turned out to be free Santa hat night. And the home team won 3-0.
The next morning I took a day trip to Bruges. A small medieval town an hour train ride north of Brussels. Some cool old buildings and history, but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be. Maybe because I’d been surrounded by cool old buildings all trip? I don’t know.
The last leg of my trip was one more night in Amsterdam before flying back home. I hit up one more museum and walked the Light Festival again.
I’ve taken a few solo road trips and other short vacations by my self. But never anything like this. Traveling alone was double-edged. Being able to stop and shoot anything that caught my eye was great. I worked a puddle for about 20 minutes in Paris. Having the freedom to do anything I wanted whenever I wanted made the trip mostly stress free and a lot of fun. I actually laughed at one point when I was running late for something but I was starving and needed coffee… I stopped at a little place and grabbed a coffee and was going to eat a granola bar I had in my bag. As I was leaving I saw a woman with a ham and cheese crepe that looked amazing. So I went back in and got one… making me even more late. I could imagine someone else with me getting frustrated at my indecisions. But I didn’t care, I wanted that crepe.
However, more times than I could count I thought to myself “Man, this would be cool to experience with someone.” The big experiences like being on top of the Eiffel Tower. Or the little ones like trying to guess the languages spoken while people-watching in a crowd. Or just having someone to watch your stuff when you go to the bathroom.
I’m really glad I went on this trip. Like I said, it’s something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. If I get the chance to go again I definitely will. But if someone would like to join, I promise to not photograph a puddle for 20 minutes.